Tales, yarns, chronicles, legends, myths, anecdotes, parables, fables, narratives. Whatever you choose to call them, stories and storytelling have been around since man could… well, since man could. It’s just in us. Simple as that, rooted deeply in our DNA. It’s a necessity, a natural and essential function, like breathing or eating. It’s primal. We need to do it. We need to tell stories by firelight. We need to splatter paint on cave walls. We need to look at the world with eyes full of wonder and possibility. We need voices in the dark. Sometimes we need them to explain, to excite, to inform, to teach, to entertain, to inspire, to enlighten, or in some cases to merely fill the silence. In Rob Reiner's 1987 classic, 'The Princess Bride,' the story in question is told for one very specific purpose, and that so seemingly uncomplicated, pure, and honest motive -- as so beautifully expressed by Mandy Patinkin in the included special features -- is for a Grandfather to tell his Grandson, that the most important thing in life… is true love. This tiny morsel of truth sets off a grand adventure, spinning a yarn full of fairy tale magic, storybook charm, and laugh-out-loud wit, cementing this beloved film as a timeless classic for all ages.
While it seems almost inconceivable that one might be unfamiliar with the plot, the script follows a sick, young boy (Fred Savage) who is read a story by his Grandfather (the late Peter Falk). Through this framing device, the audience is thrust into a medieval fantasy that sees a beautiful Princess named Buttercup (Robin Wright), get kidnapped by a trio of comical villains (or are they?) played by the amazing Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant. Setting off after the Princess, is her husband to be, the pompous Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and his stooge, the evil six fingered man Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest). Also thrown into the mix, is her long lost love, the heroic Westley (Cary Elwes), who valiantly quests to rescue her from the clutches of her nefarious captors. What follows is an affectionate celebration of fairy tale clichés that both spoofs and praises the conventions of its everlasting genre, acting as a kind of love letter to all things wondrous.
Based on his own (hilarious) novel, screenwriter William Goldman achieves a brilliant balance of comedy, romance, and adventure in his screenplay. Classic archetypes are thrown on screen and allowed to embrace and champion their own broad and lasting characteristics with satire and sincerity. Set pieces are placed on old, wooden ships, in majestic castles, dark swamps, and towering cliffs. Common fantasy tropes are dissected and deconstructed and a sometimes anachronistic, contemporary sense of humor fuels the comedy which pervades throughout. With the framing device of the Grandfather and Grandson, Goldman is able to directly comment on storytelling itself, throwing in fun little intrusions that play with and examine expectations, reactions, and the very nature of our age-spanning obsession with the fictitious. As the film takes various twists and turns and our hero looks like he might not succeed, the child bursts out in protest, literally halting the progression of the plot, and we the audience are right there with him. After all, the villain can't possibly win, can he? The hero can't possibly die, can he? These are all concepts that Goldman fiddles with in a fantastically fun and intelligent manner.
All of these self-aware elements help to make 'The Princess Bride' the classic that it is, but at its heart, this film is really just a well told fairy tale with wonderfully realized characters, and thankfully director Rob Reiner never loses sight of that. Through a picturesque lens, Reiner captures the beauty and magic of the English countryside, transporting his audience into another world. Making the best of a fairly low budget, the filmmaker pulls off a lot with comparatively little. The cast itself is also fantastic, with performers who were seemingly born for the roles they inhabit. Elwes and Wright are the embodiment of young love, with Elwes pulling off an effortless air of swashbuckling heroics and Wright exuding a regal yet sweet aura of beauty and compassion. The chemistry between the pair acts as the glue which holds the picture together. As the revenge seeking sword fighter Inigo Montoya, Mandy Patinkin plays the part of a lifetime, delivering one of the most quoted lines in movie history. His climactic showdown is one of those scenes where an audience really can't help but literally standup and cheer for a character. The rest of the players all deliver terrific, enchanting performances as well, including a fun cameo from Billy Crystal.
Packed with quotable dialogue and memorable sequences, 'The Princess Bride' is an infinitely re-watchable film. It's the type of movie that you might find playing on TV in the middle of the night, and no matter where it might be in the story, you're still somehow compelled to stop, put the remote down, get comfortable, and watch, like revisiting an old friend. Though the plot is filled with little bits of intelligent commentary and humor, really, this is just a simple chronicle of love, told with charm, grace, wit, and passion, and that's all any great tale really is. Isn't it?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM brings 'The Princess Bride: 25th Anniversary Edition' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. The movie was previously released in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, and outside of one new special feature and the exclusion of the DVD copy, this disc is essentially identical to the previous one (it even has the same menus). After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A coded.
The movie is presented in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This appears to be the same exact master and encode from the previous release, and the film continues to look rather lovely.
The source is clean and a light, natural layer of grain is visible throughout. A few shots exhibit a very slight smeary quality which may indicate some extremely minor processing, but it's never distracting, and the movie as a whole has a pleasing film-like appearance. Detail can be very strong and many scenes feature a good level of depth and dimensionality. Colors are beautifully vibrant without being unnatural, and the many wide shots of lush, English countryside simply pop off of the screen. Contrast is strong and black levels are deep and inky.
There really isn't much to complain about with this video presentation. Though some scenes are definitely more impressive than others, and the film's lower budget roots do shine through (a lot of effects work is much more noticeable thanks to the added level of detail), this a very fine transfer for a very fine film.
'The Princess Bride' is provided with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as a Spanish Mono track and a French Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Subtitle options include English SDH and Spanish. Like the video, this appears to be the same mix from the previous disc, and it remains a very solid track.
Dialogue is nice and crisp delivering all of the memorable lines with clarity and precision. Directionality between the front soundstage is good but rear activity is a little subdued, with only some minor ambient effects and music cues. Dynamic range is respectable but not terribly wide, and bass response is fine though it never really stands out. Balance between all of the audio elements is good, and thankfully nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
It may not hold up to contemporary surround sound tracks, but the mix here is certainly respectful of the source material and is more than adequate at serving the film.
MGM has ported over all of the previous disc's supplements and has included one brand new two-part retrospective featurette for the movie's 25th anniversary. All of the previous special features are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and no subtitle options (unless noted otherwise). The new featurette is presented in 1080p.
'The Princess Bride' is a simple yarn about true love, one that rises toward classic status thanks to some witty dialogue, intelligent scripting, passionate direction, and unforgettable characters. This is a film that works for all ages and plays just as fresh today as it did when first released twenty five years ago. This new Blu-ray features the same strong video, solid audio, and healthy assortment of supplements from the previous release, but forgoes the DVD copy. The brand new retrospective featurette is a decent addition but doesn't really offer fans much that they haven't already heard before. If you don't already own the previous Blu-ray and don't care about a DVD copy, this is certainly the release to get. If you already own the previous disc, however, then spending the cash to double dip on this release is sadly… inconceivable!